Protesta Chilena

By Caterina Zischke-Rincon

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On October 12th, 2013, hundreds of people gathered to protest the            impending construction of a thermoelectric plant in Concón, Chile, a beach town just north of the port of Valparaíso. Protesters were concerned that dangerous levels of electromagnetic radiation from the power plant would harm human health, and that toxic waste dumped into the sea would threaten local marine life. Funding the project was Chile’s state-owned oil company ENAP, which had plans to build the plant at the edge of Playa La Boca, a popular surfing destination for generations of local residents and visitors alike.

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Define American

By Pluralism and Unity Board

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On October 22 and 23 of 2014, as part of an advertising campaign for the on- campus screening of Jose Antonio Vargas’ Documented, five members of the Pluralism & Unity Board hung an American flag on the foyer wall of J.R. Howard Hall and asked passerby scrawl their definitions of “American” on a small whiteboard before being photographed in front of an American flag. Though a seemingly simple request, it spurred a number of different and often conflicting responses. Each was laden with nuance, reflecting both strongly held beliefs in American ideology and critical examinations of the United States of America.

To the Pluralism & Unity Board, this activity was more than just an exercise in freedom of speech. It was a chance for students to reflect on their own values, as well as to engage in discussion about who is able to define “American” and about the stakes of each possible definition. Such instances of reflection and discussion are exactly what social justice means to PUB. As a student-led organization, PUB strives to bring social justice into the Lewis & Clark cultural consciousness by offering opportunities for community dialogue. While this may seem like a menial task, we believe in the importance of creating discursive space where beliefs and ideologies are aired and questioned. It is our hope that we can inspire students to take initiative beyond our own programs, to work toward social justice in the Lewis & Clark community and beyond. In the following vignettes, PUB members reflect the experience of asking themselves and others to define “American.”

Gaby Seltzer: I arrive early, around 9:30, to set up our table in JR Howard. The logistics of this plan had seemed simple the week before—I didn’t have class until afternoon, so I would take the whiteboard, pens, tape, fliers, and flag to Howard and start tabling on my own until the others arrived. But now, as I stand in Howard’s oddly silent foyer, I feel awkward. I am still in an area that usually bustles with activity; I am dressed as usual, but instead of notebooks I carry a properly folded American flag in my shoulder bag. Usually this flag, which belongs to my roommate, is on display in my apartment living room—a decoration I would never choose of my own accord, but one that I tolerate by avoiding mental attribution of meaning to it. I’d be lying if I said it didn’t give me some pleasure to remove the flag from the wall, but I don’t know why. I intended to fold the flag like a bed sheet for its short journey to Howard, but at the last minute I reconsidered. A few unsure thoughts ran through my head. What if this flag actually means something to my roommate, and I offend her by folding it improperly? – I should probably appear unbiased when I’m tabling, so people with diverse opinions feel comfortable contributing. I don’t want to offend anyone when I’m working under PUB’s name. – How do I want to fold this? – Is this flag real? Unable to give myself satisfactory answers, I hearkened back to Girl Scouts and folded the flag the proper way.

Now that I’m here in Howard, I’m grateful for the extra five minutes I spent folding the flag. Only one or two people amble through the foyer, but I feel invisible eyes on me. I place my miscellaneous materials on the table, and proceed to unfold the flag, hurrying a bit because I’m uncomfortable. A student walks by; I am exceedingly aware that he can’t tell I’m affiliated with the Pluralism & Unity Board. I could be any random person, taping a flag to the wall in an academic setting. Is it disrespectful to use tape on a flag? It’s difficult to hang the flag all on my own, but I don’t dare lower my arms for fear of a corner of the flag brushing accidentally against the floor. Luckily, an acquaintance of mine walks by at just the right moment, and I ask for her help holding up the flag. In case she’s judging me, I release a mouthful of explanations as we secure the flag with tape. “This is for a PUB event, but it feels so strange! I hope people aren’t getting the wrong idea about me. I never realized what a powerful symbol the American flag is.”

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Finally the table is arranged, and I position myself so that the flag is behind me. A paper sign hangs off the front of the table, reading: “PUB asks: What does ‘American’ mean to you?” Protected by the name of my organization and our social justice mission, I feel safe to reflect on my discomfort. I helped develop the idea for this event; therefore I must have known that America, as a country and as a concept, carries different meanings for different people. The whole point of asking for definitions of “American” was to highlight this fact. But I somehow hadn’t expected to feel the weight of this symbol myself. The flag seemed so domineering, so impactful, and I felt a legitimate fear that by hanging it here I was employing a power too gigantic for me to rightfully wield. Who was I to force people to look at a symbol that could trigger them, could make them feel less-than, or worse, one that could reinforce righteous or narrow-minded self-images? Why was I doing this?

I forgot, though, that carrying around the American flag is no new experience in my life; in fact, I carry it all the time. I wield the power of the flag every day, by being American, by being white, by living here and being myself, and no amount of social justice work I do will take this away from me. Nothing will take this power away from me, and that is terrifying. I am everything that the flag is; I am dominant, I am power, I am stars and stripes, and I am a claim to liberty and equality that may or may not exist. I am every definition that every student wrote on our little whiteboard in response, from “bald eagles and freedom” to “color and community,” from “winning” to “stolen indigenous land” to “something forced on my people.” Every answer is valid; every answer is true; every answer is I, regardless of what I say and do. Here I am trying to define America, when ultimately it is defining me.

I still want to change what America means to others and to me. I want it to be a personal identity that I can unabashedly take pride in, one that implies humble and compassionate leadership, equity, freedom, and justice. I don’t want to oppress, to kill, and to forget, but still I am American and these associations are mine. Confronting the implications of my American identity is overwhelming, scary, and uncomfortable, and that’s how I know I experienced something important. I have heard again and again that social justice work is about confronting discomfort and letting it be, and I’m sure that this ideology is partially what drove me to carry an American flag into JR Howard early in the morning. Now, I take this belief as my own. Social justice in my life is activism and reflection, but above all else it is the discomfort that comes when I begin to take ownership of my identity.

Jose Huape: I am reminded every time I return to my family of the situation that they and I face. For the past two years, I have often felt lost, alone, and like I made a mistake by coming to college. The person who left home began to change, to fit a certain mold made for me, to feel out of place and like nothing more than a color. Some know what I mean by this description, but based on my experience, few can relate. My time here has been an interesting ride to say the least, but I wouldn’t change a thing about it. I’ve learned much about the boy who left, and the one who goes back. At home, I am me. I am everything that life has shown me and more. It’s quite a shame to realize that the place I worked so hard to get to all my life is the same place where others are allowed to dictate who I am, but without this experience, I would not know my true self.

Luz Aguirre: Documented is a film that opened my eyes. For an undocumented individual to share his status with acquaintances friends, and family is one thing and to share it with the world is beyond courageous. Listening to Jose Antonio Vargas speak about his personal life unfolded a series of memories surrounding my life. How many times have I heard individuals tell their stories about crossing the border, about being deported or facing deportation, and about feeling emotionally tied to their homeland? How many times have I not seen families disintegrate, men and women work endlessly under the hot sun, and suffer from the consequences of immigration? All this suffering in order to live the American dream.

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I had heard about Jose Antonio Vargas before, but not his full story. As a Mexican who knows many undocumented individuals, it is sad to realize that in reality I do not know enough about the topic. I know what many individuals experience but nothing beyond those lines. The lack of knowing has stopped me from joining the cause and promoting awareness in the way I personally want to be involved. Vargas and other individuals who fight for the justice of all Americans, despite having much to fear, inspire me.

I’ve never given much thought to how I define “American,” but I am able to thoroughly explain what America means to me. I define America as the land of choice. Everything I’ve ever learned, heard, witnessed, and taught has been focused on one foundation; the right to be free. America stands for individual freedom and for the right to express that freedom. I have chosen to express my freedom just like other individuals in America. My question is how can everyone else that identifies as an American safely express his or her freedom?

Tuba City, AZ

By Aspen Johnson

OVERVIEW: I spent 7 days in Tuba City, Arizona on the Navajo/Hopi Indian Reservation in 2012 and another 7 days in 2013. Featured here are 3 pictures of the family I was staying with. While there, I bonded the most with Lucas. He was five years old in 2012 and still had trouble speaking. He had a large class at in school and didn’t get enough vocal interaction throughout his day. However, he is brilliant and became a guide for me in Tuba City. I would carry him around on my back and he would point to objects or people for me to photograph. In this way I got to see how he was seeing and what he wanted to show me. The first photo is of him, the next two were taken with him by my side_MG_3018

Pictured here are Lucas’s grandparents. They have lived on the reservation their whole lives. Some elderly folks wouldn’t let us take their picture. Lucas’s mother told me they believe each photo taken takes away a part of the soul.

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Lucas’s brother chews food, taking a quick break from playing video games with Mitchell, Lucas’s other brother. Mitchell is 21 and says playing video games is the best way for him to stay out of the trouble most of his friends are getting into these days. He alluded to alcohol, drugs, and girls. The shadow on the wall is Taylor’s, their mother, sweeping the floor in another part of the room.

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Lucas rides his tricycle in front of their house. The object in the top right of the frame is a barrel attached to a spring that his father Evan has built. Evan was an accomplished bull rider and that is what this toy simulates. The shadow in the bottom left is their trampoline that I am standing on. The rest of the space around them is littered with broken toilets, old pipes, wires, and numerous other miscellaneous objects.

Your Magic is (R)eal: Scholastic Fish-Frying in Emancipated Heterotopias

By Lindsey Scott

There is a great task we have been served, we the youth of social scholarship. Critical theory, as we knew it, is dead. Constructivism lies limply in its hospice. We are conscripted to the infantries during something of an interregnum: Do we wage war for old paradigms, or paradigms yet to come? Whose flag am I really flying, here?

Since the 1960s, philosophers and scientists of social and cultural phenomena have exhausted a good deal of paper and caffeine challenging conventions of how social science “gets done.” Underlying this question is the oft uncomfortable tension between describing and prescribing. We want to offer an array of experiences and legitimate individuals’ realities, but we also want to apply our research towards the creation of a world that allows for individuals’ realities to be legitimated more freely on a daily basis. In 1937, Max Horkheimer famously delineated social research which attempts to prescribe some change as “critical theory,” in that said theories critique social systems as they stand to suggest potential, emancipatory changes. Drawing from Marx and his interpretation of the Hegelian dialectic, the hallmark of critical theory has traditionally been identifying and disrupting naturalized political power in an attempt to empower the disenfranchised.

Despite critical theory and the Frankfurt School’s revolutionary approach to social inquiry, it was not long until a new paradigm came to knock it down to size. A few decades later, in the late 1960s, French philosophers from the psychoanalytic and literary theory traditions noted what they found to be an egregious hypocrisy in classic critical theory: It tended to critique metanarratives like wage-labor in capitalist production by replacing them with new metanarratives—which these new theorists saw as a practice too informed by Marx’s dialectical materialism and sure to ensnare those whom the critique attempted to free. Since then, a good deal of social science research (especially, anthropology) has leaned towards the deconstruction of metanarratives altogether. Rather than prescribe social changes based on historical generalizations, such research has been deeply involved describing particular experiences, at the very least to further denaturalize social systems and point to the constructedness of subjective realities.

But this, too, shall pass—and it largely has. From comparative international social history to medical ethnography to theoretical geographies, social philosophers have critiqued the two paradigmatic behemoths which precede us: critical theory and constructivism. Many agree that the first lends itself to discursive violence by over-generalizing, while the other lends itself to a semiotic rat race in which change only happens inside the crumbling ivory tower. Academics have flanked their figurative horses far past death with reconceptualization after reconceptualization, intoxicated from the perfumes of discursive warfare waged on podiums and password-locked journals. Some of has certainly provoked conversation—which is half the battle—but how much conversation has it precluded? It seems now we have one foot in critical theory, one foot in constructivism, and our head in the clouds while we’re mad as hell.

As a slightly more–than–neophytic student of social life, who is armed more often with a pen than with a megaphone, my technologies are those of discursivity. I study the actions and words of social networks in an attempt to assist in the liberation of the actions and words of these networks. I strive for the manifestation of my words into actions; I strive for praxis. But it has become increasingly apparent to me that many of the philosophies of the current academic epoch provide me the tools to build a window, rather than a door, into this goal of praxis for which we all strive. The subjectivist mouth attached to the dialectical-critical body shouts “freedom for all” while throwing the limbs of the theorist before her into a pyre. In so much of today’s critical inquiry, writing aimed at emancipation engages with the rhetoric of taking away—that our colleagues are always missing something, to be edited, even censored, and must be held on trial for the crimes their rhetorical missteps have created (or, as is often the case, could have possibly created in the virtual-possible!). How are we, the new generation, to serve our philosophical forepersons and rupture hegemonies when we’re so intrepid to misstep that we seem to either turn a blade to our brother-mothers behind our backs in self-defense or shake in guilt in the grasses of our ineluctable defeat? We have a very grand tradition of critical and humanist theory to be thankful for and indebted to, but its weapons have grown dull and its strategies have pitted us against one another, distracting us from the larger worldling project(s) at hand.

This discussion may be far from underground in academia at the moment, but it is largely addressed in either such piecemeal terms as to be written off as “niche” or in such grandiose terms as to be written off as “provacateuring.” And it is no small problem to those of us who inherit these traditions—even if (possibly, especially if) your goal is to do away with these or any traditions. It is vastly important to choose your interlocutors wisely, and to be aware of the interlocutors you inherit even if you do not engage with them explicitly. So, I invite you to consider these engagements, and empower yourself with them. I invite you to critique as a means to make it easier to speak, not more difficult. I invite you to investigate, for a change, how we may agree about some tenants of social realities in order to instigate policy changes more efficiently. Most importantly, I invite you to be aware of your work and be proud of your work, because it is through your work, as my new colleagues or comrades in this fight, that we can transform theory into practice through that beautiful thought machine: praxis. It is in this spirit that I offer a couple of recent contributions to this question of “where do we go from here?”

The first of the two philosophers I’ve mentioned is the ex-Althusserian bad boy who’s stolen the hearts of many in recent years: a grumbling Frenchman by the name of Jascques Ranciere. Ranciere has never been a passive acolyte to critical theory; his tactics in fighting for social justice include wholesale defamation of its most prolific proponents, placing him on track to become one of the most inflammatory philosophers since Baudrillard. That being said, Ranciere has very publicly chastised Baudrillard for his reproduction of metanarratives—a “hypocrisy” of critical theory that Ranciere is hell bent on rectifying. Ranciere contends that even the most contemporary critical theory often falls in the same dialectical traps as its predecessors nearly a century ago, effectually disempowering those whom it seeks to free by trapping them in a story in which they have no control.

Ranciere’s prescription for our ails? De-scription. That is, perhaps the scholar disenfranchises the pupil in the pupil’s understanding of a concept is qualitatively less than their teacher. For Ranciere, this guilt-laden learning process has extended beyond the classroom from the outmoded practices of critical theorists who he believes have, in turn, castigated all agents of discourse. His 1991 work, The Ignorant Schoolmaster, surveyed the work of French teacher and educational philosopher Joseph Jacotot, who found that the teacher of some object of knowledge need not “know” anything about it at all; the learning that occurs is always through the interaction between master and pupil, and, in this way, there is space for any pupil to become a master, or to decry the project of masters altogether. Ranciere expands upon this in 2010’s The Emancipated Spectator through the model of the theater and the supposed relationship between the actors and the spectators. He charts the growth of theatrical criticism by the German Romantics (Ranciere 2010:3-5) and later the critical responses to proliferation of fetishized images and representations in the early twentieth century capitalist society. Many artists wrestled with developing art practices that did not simply promote passive spectatorship: to watch or look at, and simply to go home, hang their hat, and take no great message of political action, and so to acquiesce (Ranciere: 5-6). After spectacle theory gained traction, especially equipped with the suggestion that images entrap us in contemplation rather than action, theatre organizers felt it was their duty to liberate the spectator from their passivity. Community theaters and schools sprung up to create a theatre-as-community model which incited political action by making the audience member an actor–in whatever capacity–in that performance as well.

It is at this juncture that Ranciere returns to what he had previously explored in The Ignorant Schoolmaster: “It is the very logic of the pedagogical relationship: the role assigned to the schoolmaster in that relationship is to abolish the distance between his knowledge and the ignorance of the ignoramus” (Ranciere 2010: 8). For Ranciere, these movements fell short, just as critical theory has under the modernist paradigm that even provocateurs like Baudrillard have fallen ill. The first step to emancipation, Ranciere claims, is to blur the dichotomy between actor and viewer, from master to pupil, from producer of knowledge to consumer of knowledge: spectatorship, because it requires psychological engagement and drawing connections between identities and times and spaces, is not passive, but is active, is not simply consumption, but production in its own right. It is in this way that the viewer is an actor and the recipient of knowledge a creator: the spectator is not to attempt to “occupy the position of the scholar [master], but so a better to practice the art of translating, of putting her experience into words and her words to the test; of translating her intellectual adventures for other and counter-translating the translation of their own adventures which they present to her” (Ranciere 2010: 11).

We can take the model of the theatre or the classroom (both equally enticing) to the scholarship of cultural critique and how it plays out on the world’s stage. Ranciere’s closing thought on the pedagogical relationship of knowledge mediations is that an emancipated artist does not fool herself into thinking that she can transmit a pure object of knowledge unfettered into the mind of another, so she does not try. Instead, she simply tries to inspire thought. On the other side of this, the emancipated spectators, or consumers of thought, do not aim to procure a pristine understanding of that which they are perceiving. Instead, they receive it as a translation that they are completing with another agent, and so may be free of the guilt of being shackled by passivity and inaction. They may enact change in ways unforeseen and unstructured yet in the present, as bodies constantly in translation and translating one another (Ranciere 2010:16-18). Where the modernist tradition of cultural critique begs that we chart new territories on an invisible map, a critique employing emancipated spectatorship thrives in the dissensus that occurs through a continually-developing democracy of knowledge, free of understanding disagreements between masters and pupils and full of fervent free-wheeling translations.

While many theorists have reimagined the critical project, Ranciere argues that they have often done so through a characteristically critical critique. This is problematic for Ranciere in that doing so “proclaims the obsolescence of [the critical paradigm] only to reproduce its mechanism…to transform the desire to ignore what makes us feel guilty into a desire to ignore that there is nothing to feel guilty about” (Ranciere 2010:30). He argues that even very contemporary philosophers have employed critique as a means to unveil the great web of appearances by which the masses are oppressed, masses who are “victims of a comprehensive structure of illusion, victims of our ignorance and resistance to an irresistible process of development of the productive forces” (Ranciere 2010:31). And while these theorists may not align themselves to the critical tradition, they reproduce its logic of dialectic, and as “all that is solid melts in to air,” disallow the reader to take action as a participant in any kind of real world. If we adopt Ranciere’s pedagogy and apply it to the dissemination of critique, we see that the critical approach towards unmasking a system of illusions may do a disservice to the spectator/pupil, as the position of the unmasker of an illusion stultifies the recipient of that knowledge rather than freeing them (through a treatment of critique as active translation), as the actor/master is likely intending. Once we assume difference in kind rather than value in the transmission of critique from writer to reader, maybe then we can inspire spontaneous praxes, “scenes of dissensus capable of surfacing in any time at any place” (Ranciere 2010:48).

Even in my own cursory unpacking of Ranciere’s un-critique, it’s apparent the dangers of slippage into a textual cascade of what can easily appear as a critique of Ranciere’s critique of critiques of critique—and while I wouldn’t be engaging with it in this way unless I thought this ice was traversable without it cracking, other neo-critiques may provide slightly more explicit grounding in the actual, something we can more easily tango without falling prey to that which we are playing with new means to grapple with: staying with the complexity of social life without talking past one another or talking in to the air. Ranciere’s theorization of the democratic mediations that occur between master and pupil bear similarity to the cybernetic body politics of the late 1980s and 1990s. After Donna Haraway revealed that “we are all cyborgs” (Haraway 1991), Bruno Latour told us that “we were never modern” (Latour:1991). In Latour’s eyes, the Enlightenment project fought and won to divide nature and culture in our minds, so that nature was the object of truth to be conquered and discovered by human rationality; while these boundaries have become naturalized by scientisms, these are merely organization schema which disguise the multifariousness of human actors. For Latour and other philosophers of science and technology, identity is only constructed at its intersections with other human and non-human actors. Though Ranciere does not use this language, I don’t believe it’s blasphemous to suggest that both Ranciere and Latour contend the first step to an emancipated body and an emancipated polis is to acknowledge the blurriness of dichotomies, especially in the form of subjects, and to take pleasure in it.

In his more recent work, Latour offers some suggestions on the other side of what Ranciere has explored. Are there dangers to becoming so avoidant of classical critique as to become constructivist?   Ranciere and Latour write that one of the greatest gifts of critical theory has given scholarship is the nearly-wholesale constant vigilance about the constructedness of all claims to truth. Even in papers of the “hard sciences,” it is old hat now to churn over the mantra that our conclusions are influenced by our perspectives which have been molded from birth by our varied and fractured personal experiences. Definitions get mucky here: Nietzsche referred to this as perspectivism, some social scientists refer to it as subjectivism, some as relativism. Latour refers to it universally as constructivism, and syncs it up with the entirety of the cultural critique project. On the one hand, the paradigm has been especially useful to the social sciences—perhaps paving the way for the non-passive spectator as Ranciere sees it. But what Latour fears is similar to that of Baudrillard or Jameson’s doom-and-gloom spiraling of signified-less signifiers which leave us actual bodies floundering in a world where we have no common truths, and therefor find praxis next to impossible.

In 2004, Latour claimed that he is “no longer a constructivist.” He did not mean that he is no longer a subjectivist, but that if cultural critique is ever going to develop as sustainable praxis, it has to be able to come to compromises about the world that the actors and subjects of its theories live in . In exploring why he believes critique has “run out of steam,” he evokes an editorial from the New York Times in which a Republican senator says that reports of human influence in global climate change still present “a lack of scientific certainty.” While this may seem laughable to academics, it’s problematic in that many scholars, especially those in the neighborhood of the philosophy of science, have made careers out of complicating claims for their “lack of scientific certainty” (Latour 2004:226-227). In valiant efforts to “emancipate the public from prematurely naturalized facts,” Latour laments that he has incidentally taken part in “destroy[ing] hard-won evidence that could save our lives” (Latour 2004:227). He extends this to the larger conversations surrounding cultural critique, arguing that perhaps in attempts to emancipate by the means of complicating identities, power relations, and knowledge, theorists have over complicated to the point of making ourselves “prisoners of language,” warring with one another over uncertainties and becoming stagnated in the process (Latour 2004:227-230).

Latour recently sketched this out in his 2010 treatise for a new form of scholastic critique, “An Attempt at a ‘Compositionist Manifesto.’” In Latour’s “compositionalism” (which he calls not a critique of critique, but a reuse, a reimagining of critique), he suggests that she who critiques should aim to produce with a perspective in between absolutism and relativism, one that gives credence to the biased perspectives of di-viduals while aiming towards a common world: “Nothing is beyond dispute but closure has to be achieved” at least to a certain degree (Latour 2010:478). What’s interesting about Latour’s newest additions to STS is this sort of republican search for the common; it is to this very intention that he attributes the use of the term “Manifesto” in reference to Marx and Engel’s leviathan: it is a sort of metanarrative, modernist in that it replaces the competing-narrative metanarrative of postmodern constructivist social theory but still of the postmodern (or, as Latour vehemently refers to it throughout his career, non-modern) in that it treats truth as not revealed but created by the compositions of its ever-translated agents.

Though he speaks about it in a very different way, something similar could be said about Ranciere. Like Latour, Ranciere suggests that the critical project has lost its way in how it has transmitted its findings. Both seek a new critique which not only provides for, but necessitates, heterogeneous actors and thought; the new critique is not an answer but a prospect, not progress but process. Both provide, I believe, provocative new ways to engage the subject in way that inspires her to produce but does not arrest her production. In this way, we may inch closer to exorcizing our guilt in the journey to exorcize the guilt of our networks, no matter how large or small.

And these texts are only the beginning! It’s the provision of what they hint at that makes the project of critique exciting in a new way—the promise, I believe, truly is something different: namely, that these approaches call for some action that is non-directed, but embodied. While they do suggest a turning away from certain practices, they open more doors than they close. They encourage the neophyte philosophers to get messy in discourse, to fry the big fish without fearing failure at the sword of their sensei or fearing whether they will do their own word justice. Let us find cohesion in our heterogeneity, let us take pleasure in our spectatorships and tutelage as active and meaningful translations of knowledge, let us create justice in pieces, and re-create it. And let you take of this text what you will—take pleasure in the interpretation! Maybe there is no such thing as “just a text” or the question of “what to do with it”—or, perhaps, you disagree. Perhaps, I disagree, too. Humor me, though, and let us dig for some compromise, for as long we’re both incited towards a little bit of both, I believe we’re on the right track(s). Perhaps we can get a little closer to imagining and living like there is “no lost community to be restored … simply scenes of dissensus capable of surfacing at any place and at any time.” Maybe we (whoever we may be) deserve to get a little empowered by the prospect of inciting, as writer or reader, “organization[s] of the sensible, where there is neither a reality concealed behind appearances nor a single regime of presentation and interpretation of the given imposing its obviousness on all … every situation can be cracked open from the inside…to alter the field of the possible and the distribution of capacities and incapacities” (Ranciere 2010:48-49).

#BlackLivesMatter

By Nikima Jagudajev

December 2014. A peaceful protest—my first in New York City—until four protestors were brutally taken from the crowd. Tackled, handcuffed and carried “away”…

I witnessed two infuriated, manic people (women) yelling at a line of stone faced cops (men)—pure emotion met by pure indifference; no mercy. In all my attempts to hold them back, tears came because of “the injustice of it all.” An immediate reaction to the desolate horror that is our law enforcement—the perpetuation of white supremacist patriarchy. Here to serve and protect? Who exactly?

This confrontation—stone face vs. manic—happened mere seconds after the four arrests. The NYPD pouncing on their innocent pray, tackling the struggling protesters to the ground.  They are trained to become extremely precise and accurate beasts at any given second; the dinner bell rings and the trained body takes over, full force.  The goal:  dominate another human into submission. In this particular situation the performance of control was in response to our blatant refuse to comply when asked to clear the streets in Time Square. We—the collective we, meaning the protesters—did not immediately abide to a forceful demand given to us by overly armed, brainwashed human beings with a badge to prove it.

The manic outrage of a single black woman yelling at a single black cop, yelling that it could have been his son shot in the streets as opposed to Michael Brown, is the epitome of a complete lack of communication. The unheard words and the unspoken words leave a desolate aftertaste. But her words are true, and she should be heard loud and clear. Racism is our reality. Racism is a safe word that as a non-black woman I can use without completely understanding the first hand experience of it. An all encompassing word that does not perpetuate or recycle a privileged voice.  I am not black. I do not experience racism first hand. But I am fighting for social justice, and the fundamentals of social justice begin with life, an equal right for all to experience life #blacklivesmatter.

When we walk the streets peacefully, masses coming together with voices and bodies, we are heard. And when I look to either side and see cops walking peacefully beside us, with their guard down (to an extent)… there is something beautiful about that too.

To protest is to fulfill a necessary role within our capitalist structure.  We are the 99%. When we walk together, we are unified as the proletariat.  Regardless of Erykah Badu walking next to me, personal identity is insignificant—no wonder she was in her pajamas—how liberating. We are the masses that unite to fight against those in power. Scuttling across the surface of the earth—or rather, a simulation of the earths surface—like swarms of Desert Locusts.  A rhizome shutting down the general city activity, kicking up dust but never staying for long.

This kind of revolt is built into capitalism, a necessary part of the structure… Pawns following the rules of the game.  Why then do we protest? Why fill the streets with thousands of vaguely unified people, chanting and walking for hours?  Because it is our responsibility. To protest is to fight against precisely the structure (capitalism) that instigates and necessitates the uprising.  Recognizing this allows for an upper hand, opening doors to reappropriation. Can we play with the expectations, can we make them ours?

Protesting against police brutality is to fight a desolate, uncontrollable reality. A structure that is so beyond the grasp and control of those fighting. However, to fight for justice—for life—is to fight for something that is inherently our right. I walk the streets because I feel strongly that every human, regardless of their race, has an inherent right to life. This is a unifying force, a unified paradigm that plagues the masses.

Walking in unity with an overarching intention day after day is a ritual. We walk together, in constant transit, with intention but without a complete understanding of the affects of our actions. We are action bodies walking together, unified in a state of demand. Necessity. Anger. Whatever this state may be, we are a force, partaking in ritual.

Individual identity is trivial in this ritualistic practice. Aspects of everyday life are eliminated due to a collective need. Food becomes an afterthought. Mindless chatter and obsessive use of electronic devices (smartphones) become banal. Walking together puts the active body in use. There is something powerfully meditative and sacred about the monotonous, repetitive action of unified walking and chanting. The rhythm of the footsteps and the words being spoken clearly, with force, repeated almost mindlessly but with intention that is embodied through repetitive, clear action.

Rebecca Solnit recently exclaimed in an article on climate change, “Americans are skilled at that combination of complacency and despair that assumes things cannot change and that we, the people, do not have the power to change them.” She goes on to say that you have to be so “abysmally ignorant of history” to believe this… Such a lack of confidence in collective strength is a result of egoism. Focusing on self interest perpetuates a belief that one must be in control of any given situation (including one’s self). I am not arguing that self-worth is unimportant, this is groundwork in the pursuit of change. However, taking action and being heard—large scale—requires a disregard for personal identity and instead, an embracing of the collective. Complete control is ingrained in patriarchy, to think this way is to perpetuate a structure that must be adamantly dismantled.

Greed for control is detrimental—a constant nagging fear—as these encompassing forms of control are often unattainable or at least quite fleeting. The result is complacency, despair, and submission.  Contrarily we must embrace the fluidity of thought and action to avoid stagnation.

Control is a stagnant position. In Pelgia Goulimari’s essay on Minoritarian Feminism, she discusses the Deleuzo-Guattarian term “becoming minoritarian”. This concept focuses on a constant state of becoming other, a non-totalizing and de-centered approach with a collective constitution that builds “lines of flight”, a mobile system that allows for movement through subdivisions.  Subdivisions are related to a common root created by those in power, they are dominating ideals of power that force stagnation in our approach at confronting these particular power structures (i.e. capitalism, patriarchy, white-supremacy). A minoritarian approach, according to Luce Irigaray, has the potential of building “alliances across boundaries of race”, among other social constructs.

Walking and chanting together while focusing on a uniting need is to act within a collective constitution. As we walk we physically cross boundaries—a rhizome traveling through streets and sidewalks—from the Upper East Side to Chinatown, demanding attention. When I protest, I experience a lack of control . There is a fluidity to this transitional space that allows me to focus on a greater omnipresent need. Social constructs are temporarily dissolved and I find myself in a collective ambiguity. There is strength in this ambiguity, and there is strength in ritual.

Selling Sweet Nothings

By Sam Alexander

Machiavelli wrote that “politics have no relation to morals.” The same should be said for economics. From a realist perspective, the international system is composed of actors who pursue their individual self-interests at all times and cooperate with one another only when it is mutually beneficial or absolutely necessary. In order to be the most successful in their individual pursuits, actors require a common framework through which to interact with other parties. Grounding human behavior in the economy has long served as an arguably objective lens through which to explain different actions and decisions. However, in countries where the populations are largely engaged in informal or subsistence labor the value of purely economic appraisal is limited. The result has been for powerful actors to engage in a more specific framing process that allows them to incorporate these populations into the market in the first place. This new framework is popularly referred to as “development.”

Access to energy has always been a concern for industrialized nations. As awareness increases regarding the declining access to petroleum supplies, there is a “renewed interest in liquid agrofuel” or “biofuel” (Borras et al. 215). In light of the ‘peak oil’ dilemma, both the United States and the European Union have established policies mandating that fossil fuels be blended with biofuels to reduce petroleum dependencies (215). This has drastically increased the global demand for biofuel, and based on the agricultural limitations within the U.S. and Europe, “outsourcing biofuel production has become a key pillar in the emerging global agrofuel complex” (215). In the quest for new biofuel suppliers, attention has turned to “land-abundant” countries often located in Africa (Borras et al. 221). This is the backdrop behind the ProCana bioethanol project in Mozambique. There, three primary actors – Western industrialized nations (the U.S. and E.U.), corporations (ProCana), and the national government overseeing said production (the Mozambican government) – can be distinguished to have actively constructed the framework through which biofuel production is currently viewed as promising economic development.

Given the increasing demand for biofuel in Western industrialized nations, there have been two primary pushes to facilitate broader access to these resources. The first, has been to frame national economic and security needs as having transnational or global benefits rather than purely domestic ones. Western nations, corporations and development agencies have claimed that the emerging biofuel market offers a “three-win” scenario (Borras et al. 231). These three “wins” are the environmental benefits of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, the indispensable value of attaining national energy security, and the economic growth and development that will be realized by states in the global South (231). The second initiative has been to reduce the transaction costs for other actors producing and marketing biofuels by providing evidence that can support this agenda for each major actor involved. Western funded organizations such as the World Bank have helped to construct the narrative that there exists a wide availability of “marginal” or “under-utilized land in which to produce crops for biofuels” (Borras et al. 221). These two terms are “used to refer to lands that are not fully utilized in economic terms” though they may be under use in any number of other ways (221).

Wielding this narrative, “a team of consultants sponsored by the World Bank and the Embassy of Italy prepared a policy study and recommendation” for the Mozambican government “emphasizing the availability of under-utilized lands” within the country’s borders (Borras et al. 217). Third parties such as these are able to use the economic concept of marginal land as a frame through which to encourage developing nations to promote the production and trade of desired resources. The fact that these third parties are often funded by Western nations or organizations is hardly surprising considering the need to compensate the valuable service that they provide. By using “unbiased” economic evaluations of resources such as land, these third-party reports can be used to justify and frame the decisions of more powerful actors. While the benefits of this framework for Western states and corporations are more salient, the Mozambican government also profits from applying this same narrative. Herein lies the real “three-win scenario.”

As Western countries are concerned with attaining energy security through cheap and reliable access to fuel, developing nations’ governments seek to secure external sources of revenue. Their behavior is driven by the “desire to save and even generate foreign exchange earnings, as well as provide employment in their countryside” (Borras et al.228). With the focus on attracting foreign capital and investment, governments like that of Mozambique’s see larger benefits from attracting tourists and corporations than they do from allowing domestic subsistence labor. These values directly reflect the way in which Mozambique’s government allocates its country’s major resources, such as arable land. Accordingly, the ProCana plantation “was located on prime agricultural land with great potential for food production” and the original inhabitants of the land were resettled in less economically valuable locations (Borras et al. 222). In order to justify removing citizens from their lands, “the Mozambican government has framed the biofuels initiative within the context of interrelated concerns: energy, environment, land, employment, livelihoods and food, among others” (Borras et al. 220). In other words, the project’s expected benefits are framed as environmental, energy-related and, above all else, developmental.

The foreign corporations engaged in the production and marketing of biofuels most noticeably exploit the development framework. ProCana’s primary incentive, “like any capitalist venture, is [maximizing] profit” (Borras et al. 224). In pursuit of this objective, corporations utilize narratives such as the “three-win” scenario to provide national governments the tools with which to promote their corporate endeavors. The ProCana project’s primary investor, CAMEC, claimed that biofuel production would “spur and promote livelihoods and employment among the rural poor,” and the Mozambican government was able to parrot these promises on to the 360 plus families their project displaced (224). Through the development lens land is held “as one of the economic factors of production” and subsistence or traditional land use is dismissed as marginal or unproductive (Borras et al. 225). This public economic rationale is then paired with material economic incentives for government officials in order to secure preferential treatment and resource access for firms like CAMEC. The number of “kickbacks and directorships provided to President Armando Guebuza by direct foreign investors in Mozambique indicates the broad levels of corruption in the upper reaches of the state” (Borras et al. 230). These financial incentives explain some of the government’s willingness to join foreign governments and corporations in capitalizing on the rhetoric of development. These privileged actors profit despite the fact that such corporate ventures rarely “contribute in any significant way to solving the problems of poverty, inequality and socio-political exclusion of the rural poor” (Borras et al. 231). Foreign biofuel projects like ProCana aren’t even band-aid solutions. Corporations such as CAMEC are beholden to their stock-holders, not Mozambican citizens. Quickly forgetting their claims that mutual benefits would be realized, CAMEC decided to pull their investments out of both the ProCana project and the biofuel market entirely when the company’s executives determined that there were more profitable margins in Mozambican mining (Borras et al. 232).

The ProCana case is a story of mutually exploitable frameworks. Western governments and organizations recognized their need for enhanced energy security and they constructed an “unbiased” lens through which other actors could help them achieve this goal at the lowest possible cost. Corporations seek to maximize their individual profits; recognizing the demand for biofuel as an opportunity for higher earnings. Using economic development as the incentive with which to engage countries like Mozambique, these actors work to minimize their costs while still securing the necessary national government support. As under-the-table economic gains are concentrated among those in government with the highest level of decision making authority, corporations are favored over the collective citizenry. Any return on investment that results from foreign projects like ProCana is largely divided among the same three actors listed above. The power lies in the framework, and those who contribute to its construction are the most capable of capitalizing on the actors who come to participate in the narrative further down the road. Yet, those who exploit the development structure delegitimize future foreign investments. Biofuels hold tremendous potential as both an energy source and a market, but if these projects are intended to drive development as well as returns then all involved actors need to be willing to extend their time horizons and engage in longer length ventures. Short-term gains belong to day-traders on Wall Street. Development, however, should be the creation of permanent projects because they have the unique ability to produce long-term growth for all involved.

References

Borras, Saturnino M., David Fig, and Sofía Monsalve Suárez. “The Politics of Agrofuels and Mega-Land and Water Deals: Insights from the ProCana Case, Mozambique.” Review of African Political Economy 38.128 (2011): 215-234. JSTOR. Web. 21 Apr. 2014.

Public Toilets and the Privatization of Portland’s Urban Landscape

By Samantha Shafer

On a brisk fall day, I ventured out into downtown Portland to conduct a field investigation of public toilets. I wandered the city and closely observed ten different bathroom locations.1 What follows are my observations of those sites as I attempt to understand them in terms of changing urban landscapes, private versus public space, and entitlement to privacy. Through this analysis, it becomes clear that there is a critical disconnect between the public—those served by “the public good”—and public space, a phenomenon which is visible in the structure and geography of restrooms in downtown Portland. The dissonance here can be explained by the theme of consumption as it dominates the urban landscape and reifies class disparities. To be a consumer is to be the public, but in occupying public space, one is not a part of this consumer class, and is thus fundamentally excluded from being served by the public good. In examining the case of toilets, I hope to illustrate the significance of this inconsistency for understanding the tangible outcomes of urban design and the active privatization of space.

Downtown Portland on this windy morning was a mixture of city buzz and the rustle of trees. As I walked past the intersection of NW 8th & Couch, the park was a typical vision of urban green space. To the east on this block, there was a large steel pod with louvers on the lower and upper parts of the walls: a Portland Loo. A line had formed outside the pod. I paused, then walked toward two individuals in line. I asked them if this toilet is ever locked, and the first replied matter-of-factly, “Oh yea. They lock these up at about nine or ten at night…” I asked when they were reopened, and I was told not until six in the morning. There is a dishearteningly large community of houseless2 people at this park, so I was shocked to hear that for eight hours of the night, they were left with nowhere to relieve themselves. When local businesses closed, another toilet (public or not) might not be found within reasonable distance. As night falls, bathroom options dwindle. The two people I spoke with told me that the only option left was to find a hidden space and hope for the best—between two cars, behind a tree, or over a sewer. There is no doubt that people get creative with solutions, but with the consistent presence of streetlights overhead and the surveillance of others, including the police, options for safe, hygienic facilities are hard to come by. They expressed that it is dehumanizing, unfair, dangerous. On top of all of this, the two explained to me, if one is caught urinating or defecating in the street, “in public,” they receive a ticket, must pay a fine for “public indecency,” and must register as a sex offender, a label that can severely tarnish a personal record. All this for exercising a basic bodily function.

As I hope this example makes clear, public toilets matter. And what we call public also matters. For those of us with toilets in our homes, public toilets are important to allow us to be away from home for extended periods of time—we can visit the park or peruse downtown with the knowledge that our basic needs can be met. If a public toilet is not available, the privilege of wealth means we can enter the private space of a business to use their facilities, even if it is “for customers only.” Consumers have access to spaces designated for consumption, yet if one is without the means to consume, they are excluded from these other material benefits. Houseless people exist in a strange rhetorical and physical limbo; they are not a part of the rhetorical “public,” yet are the primary users of the physical public. When city planning excludes and erases houseless people in order to satisfy the expectations of a different public, they undermine the basic needs of their most frequent users, ultimately causing the spaces to fail.

Urban historian Thomas Hanchett3, in his historical analysis of Charlotte, North Carolina, uses a lexicon of urban transformation that can be helpful here. His fundamental framework is a “sorting out” of people and spaces within the city. To sort out is to demarcate social boundaries, often along the lines of class and race. Further, this process is accompanied by a changing nature of public space and a shift in urban geography toward privatized space, as Hanchett observed in Charlotte and as we, too, can see here in Portland. This process has been a fundamental component of the changing American landscape, and it represents the values held by urban planners, city government, and commercial interests, which come to be the values that are embodied by the city itself. It is visible everywhere, and is particularly apparent in the existence or lack of public toilets around the city as it relates to issues of houselessness.

The class-based character of sorting out makes it decidedly political. Therefore, where the differentiation of space is a matter of politics and social constructions, so too are the resulting social hierarchies. In Portland, this hierarchy favors those who participate in commerce. Within the city of Portland, it is well known that there are huge numbers of houseless people and an urban infrastructure that is ill-equipped to serve those citizens. Yet in this bustling downtown, commerce is the primary means of interacting with society, and is thus inherently exclusive.

In reference to downtown Los Angeles, Mike Davis,4 American writer and urban theorist, explains that “the fortress effect emerges, not as an inadvertent failure of design, but as a deliberate socio-spatial strategy.”5 This would seem to be the case in Portland as well. As public and private spaces grow more disparate, in both aesthetic and function, it is evident that “extraordinary design precautions are being taken to ensure the physical separation of the different humanities.”6 Davis observes a militarized landscape in Los Angeles, in which a prison-military-industrial complex has so enchanted urban planners and city officials that everything from bus stop benches to city hall to the public library embraces fortress architecture and design for security. The notion of security is ubiquitous in American cities, and in Portland one need not look far to see signs of architecture of surveillance, protection, or behavior regulation. The Portland Loo serves as a prime example. With its sleek, stainless steel construction, there are few ways one could damage the structure and no small parts to steal or vandalize. Two feet of louvers that grace the top and bottom portions of the Loo create a screen, making anyone inside clearly visible to those outside—especially useful for police surveillance. Further, the pod echoes every sound, the doors can be locked by key from the outside, and police often hover nearby. In short, these are all microaggressions that target the “underclass.”7

The intention of The Portland Loo was to be “a unique solution to a universal problem.”8 While it certainly does have merit, this system also has its flaws. Given poor maintenance, fragmented privacy, and unreliable hours, these public restrooms are a far cry from the comforts of home, or even the local Starbucks. I find a symbolic resonance in the fact that the louvers at the base of the Loos are designed for surveillance. This design intervention seems to reiterate a distrust for the public, regardless of its innovativeness. Rather than actually providing security, the rift between private and public space inflames social tensions and ultimately makes people less safe, especially those people with the fewest rights, and least wealth or voice in the matter.

These public toilets would be better suited among the spartan, minimal design of a prison than in the “uplifting” public spaces that the Olmstead brothers envisioned when designing Portland parks. Yet, this minimalism is part and parcel of the park plan. The suppression of some is considered necessary for the uplift of others. It is clear that while the intention is to serve park visitors and the city’s consuming class, it is simultaneously intended to deter a specific class of ‘others.’ Professor of modern American history William Leach9 writes about the strategies of enticement of early- to mid-twentieth century department stores and storefronts to draw in consumers. Whereas stores used color, glass, light, music, and “commercialized hospitality”10 to lure in consumers, I extrapolate that there are also implicit and explicit signals in these same displays that serve as strategies of disenticement. Signs that warn, “Restrooms are STRICTLY for customers only”11 are explicit strategies of exclusion. Simultaneously, elaborate storefronts and an outward recognition of the consumerism contained within also seem meant to deter an unwanted class of “loiterers,” individuals who would take up space without consuming. While it is of course in the interest of the business to foster an exclusive enclave for its customers, the changing proportion of public to private space leaves ever less space in which to exist without infringing upon someone else’s claimed territory.

Jane Jacobs, urban critic and author of The Death and Life of American Cities, discusses the importance of mixed use spaces that attract a heterogenous public.12 The presence of many “eyes on the street” and a steady flow of people crossing paths with different destinations creates a sense of social accountability, a visible marker of use, and ultimately keeps everyone safer. “The bedrock attribute of a successful city district,” Jacobs argues, “is that a person must feel personally safe and secure on the street among all these strangers.”13 In Portland, public toilets, and public spaces more generally, are not in line with Jacobs’ idyll of a safe space. What the public toilets come to represent is a space that is only for houseless people, even though this may not be “the public” for whom the city has built them. Just as these people live a marginal existence, the facilities are treated with the same kind of neglect and are allowed to fall into disrepair. Park visitors and passersby who may use these facilities have the option to leave. They may enter the coffee shop and purchase an item in order to use the keycode-guarded porcelain throne. It is exactly this distinction, between those who may leave and those who have no place go, that makes the delineation of public space so significant.

In contrast to these other private restrooms, in Pioneer Place mall there were few visible security precautions around the bathroom area. Given that malls embody a privatized public space—a new social commons that just happens to exist on private property—as a private entity they have the power to regulate behavior and use. However, unlike Target or TJ Maxx,14 despite being centrally located within downtown, they do not need to. The mall is constantly populated by patrons with different intentions, and just as Jacobs advocated for “eyes on the street,” Pioneer Place embodies that kind of mutual surveillance among shoppers. Perhaps public-private relations here may be better off. Nevertheless, the mall bathrooms are no more of an ideal toilet situation than any other space I encountered. Limited by mall hours and actively surveilled by wandering mall security, they are not particularly welcoming. As Davis observed in Los Angeles, “Today’s upscale pseudo-public spaces…are full of invisible signs warning of the underclass ‘Other’.”15 Envisioning a houseless person walking through the expanse of the mall and past the food court to reach the restroom, I imagine that the most significant barrier to entry is an almost tangible shame and sense of otherness. Even if someone could “pass” as housed, it would be a stretch to imagine a feeling of comfort, strolling through this cathedral of commerce which reeks of gemütlichkeit16 and Sbarro.

Consumption is the hallmark of the American city, and Portland is no exception. Private spaces within this urban landscape demonstrate this consumer-oriented purpose, and contribute to the active “sorting out” of belonging and behavior. As the city becomes more oriented toward the private sphere, the survival of public space is dependent on use by the monied class. It is for this audience that public parks are constructed and to serve this public that toilet facilities are erected. Drawing from my observations of these facilities, their presence does not necessarily suggest a concern for the poor and downtrodden; in fact, just the opposite. It would seem by the design and management of these facilities that if it weren’t for the rare instance of use by those who “belong,” then we would do away with them all together. Emanating from the more private locations are signals of deterrence, especially through the fortification of the landscape, and stark, impersonal design—quite the opposite of the Olmsteadian vision. Ultimately, a spatial analysis of toilets around Portland is quite revealing of the city’s goals—and to whom it intends to cater. Though we may be numb to the inequity of cities, an awareness of place is essential. Urban transformation is grounded in a rich history, and as our spaces are sorted out, it is important to notice who is left in the cold, locked out.

Endnotes:

1 Survey created and conducted using the Fulcrum app. Observations made on November 16, 2014.

2 I use the term houseless over homeless to emphasize that what is missing is not necessarily a home, but a house—consistent, dependable shelter and the most basic amenities. Communities exist among the houseless and to acknowledge this is to lend more agency to those individuals. This is not a settled term, however for the purpose of this essay it is the more appropriate.

3 Hanchett, Thomas W. Sorting Out the New South City: Race, Class, and Urban Development in Charlotte, 1875-1975. (Chapel Hill: North Carolina Press, 1998).

4 Davis, Mike. “Fortress L.A.” City of Quartz: Excavating the Future in Los Angeles. (New York: Verso,1990), 223-263.

5 Davis, “Fortress L.A.” 229.

6 Ibid. 234.

7 Time Magazine.”The American underclass: destitute and desperate in the land of plenty.” August 29 (1977): 14-27.

8 Official motto of The Portland Loo, signs posted on all facilities. See Appendix 6.

9 Leach, William. “Ali Baba’s Lamp: Search for Private and Public Benefit,” Land of Desire: Merchants, Power, and the Rise of a New American Culture. (New York: Random House, 1993).

10 Leach. “Ali Baba’s Lamp.” 146.

11 See Appendix 8

12 Jacobs, Jane. “The Use of Sidewalks.” The Death and Life of American Cities. (New York: Random House, 1961), 29-73, 152-177.

13Jacobs. “The Use of Sidewalks”. 30.

14See Appendix 3-5

15Davis, “Fortress L.A.” 226.

16Gemütlichkeit is a German word which, though difficult to translate, “implies contentment, ease, and satisfaction, all in one.” It is often embodied by spatial pleasures such as soft music, architectural details, and a celebratory atmosphere. Leach examines this concept as it was adopted as “a commercial aesthetic intended to delight customers and put them at ease.”

17Leach. “Ali Baba’s Lamp.” 139-150.

Speciesism: A Key Social Justice Issue of Our Time

By Gordon Kelley 

“The question is not, can they reason? nor, can they talk? but, can they suffer?”

– Jeremy Bentham

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

“Only when we have become nonviolent towards all life will we have learned to live well with others.” – Cesar Chavez

The pervasive mindset underlying human oppression is, “I and those like me are better and more important than others. Our feelings, wants, needs, desires, and very lives are worth more than theirs.” [Maier 2015] This results in issues such as patriarchy, racism, sexism, classism, violence, and war. Many people recognize that issues such as women’s rights, LGBTQ rights, and civil rights for minorities are all linked as intersectional issues of social justice. However, even people who have a good understanding of progressive philosophy and the intersection among diverse social justice issues when it comes to humans too frequently ignore the rights of nonhuman animals.

Speciesism is “the prevailing belief that other animals are less than humans, that their bodies, their freedoms, their needs, their rights, are inferior or nonexistent compared to those of humans. And since they are less than humans we can exploit and oppress them for food, clothing, entertainment, ‘scientific research,’ and as pets.” [Smith 2014] Speciesism is a uniquely complicated social justice issue—there are common threads between animal, human, and environmental devastation.

Why should animals be considered in discussions of social justice? In short, because, just like humans, they are sentient. [McWilliams 2015, Francione 2008] Animals have rich emotional lives [McWilliams 2015], they feel pain and loss, they can suffer, and they have a desire to continue living and being with their families.

Understanding that other animals are worthy of our moral consideration is very much aligned with the values that propel many of us to work to address important human rights issues. For example, something as normal and mundane as, say, ordering an ice cream, fundamentally violates key values of feminism.[Rose 2014] Female dairy cows are imprisoned and repeatedly raped (artificial insemination is done on a “rape rack”). Then their babies are taken away from them so that humans can drink their milk. Eating dairy condones the abuse and objectification of female animals, condones the commodification of female reproduction, and condones the experience of mothers having their babies ripped away over and over again. Paying for dairy, or eggs, directly supports exploitation of females [Foer 2009].

Just like humans, other animals have the right not to be imprisoned, tortured, and mutilated. They have the right not to be forcibly impregnated, and they have the right not to have their children taken away and killed. That calf taken from a mother dairy cow is typically slaughtered for meat, as will be the mother when her milk production eventually slows.[HSUS 2014] These and more than 60 billion other land animals, along with trillions of marine animals, suffer and die every year in the name of profit, tradition, science, and pleasure, due to our unthinking speciesism.[Tuttle 2014] But our power to imprison, exploit, and consume animals does not trump their right to not be imprisoned, exploited, and consumed by us.

Oppressive ideologies require rational, human people to participate in irrational, inhumane practices and to remain unaware of this contradiction.[Joy 2014] And that is exactly what happens at the grocery store every day. All animal foods represent tremendous suffering and exploitation of animals, regardless of labels like “humane” or “free range.”[McWiliams 2015, Francione 2008, Moby 2010, Foer 2009] We are blinded to this horror because it is intentionally hidden from us, invisible when we pick up a neatly packaged piece of meat at the store or order the chicken special at the restaurant. While it is beyond the scope of this essay to describe the extent of animal suffering in factory farms, I encourage you to read thoughtful writing on the subject, such as Eating Animals, by Jonathan Safran Foer,[Foer 2009] and Modern Savages: Our Unthinking Decision to Eat Animals, by James McWilliams.[McWilliams 2015] Here, it is enough to say that every decision to eat animal products promotes a level of cruelty you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy.

Speciesism has disturbing echoes in the way that humans justify abuse of other humans. Disempowering victims, both human and nonhuman, strips them of their identity, or reduces their identity down to just one purpose that serves the interest of their oppressors. This “disfigured identity” eventually becomes accepted as fact, a justification for treating victims as “others.”[Grillo 2014] Pro-slavery politicians of America’s 18th and 19th centuries defined all Africans as slaves, rather than members of free and ancient sovereign nations. The Nazis of 1930s Germany considered Jews to be vermin that must be exterminated from their Aryan world. And in the 1990s, Hutus who labeled their Tutsi neighbors cockroaches also sought to exterminate these “others” whom they no longer considered human. And, today many of us refer to animals in terms such as beef or porkers, which suggest that they exist only for human interests; indeed, that our desire for a taste sensation outweighs their very right to live.[Francione 2008]

The exploitation of billions of animals also intersects directly with the exploitation of humans. For example, at factory farms and slaughterhouses. Workers put in excessively long hours under highly dangerous conditions[Rodriguez 2010, HRW 2004, Robinson 2014], develop multiple work-related illnesses[Rodriguez 2010], and are often threatened for attempting to organize, denied compensation for injuries, and denied what most of us would consider common workplace rights.[Moby 2010, Ornelas 2014]

However, animal rights also intersect with human social justice issues in ways that are less obvious. Raising animals for food paradoxically squanders the very foods that could be used to feed hungry humans. The planet has a tremendous hunger problem—according to the United Nations, 1 in 8 people worldwide suffer from chronic undernourishment.[FAO 2013] Yet, three quarters of all the coarse grains grown in the world, such as corn, oats, and barley, are fed to animals, along with more than 90 percent of soy. [Oppenlander 2013] A recent analysis showed that reallocating crops used for animal feed and biofuels toward direct human consumption could increase the global availability of calories by as much as 70 percent.[Cassidy 2013] We have the ability to feed every human on the planet, but instead we choose to inefficiently convert large amounts of plant foods into small amounts of animal foods. [Pimental 2008]

Animal farming operations also use vast amounts of water, to the detriment of humans. For example, California is experiencing drought, yet 80 percent of the water used in that state goes to agriculture. [PINRDC 2014] It takes a very large amount of water to generate animal foods: one study found that a pound of animal protein requires 1600 gallons—more than 15 times the amount need to grow a pound of grain protein, which is only 102 gallons. [PImental 2003, Hoekstra 2006] In an era where water conservation is critically important and access to clean and safe drinking water is an increasingly urgent social justice issue [Maza 2013], this disparity is reprehensible, as well as unsustainable.

I’ll be blunt: Anyone who considers themselves an environmentalist is acting hypocritically if they also continue to consume animal products. In addition to water shortages, animal agriculture is associated with myriad other environmental problems. [Tuttle 2014,Bush 2010] Huge swaths of the Amazon rainforest have been, and continue to be, mowed down to make space for grazing and soybean production. The effluvia from large, industrial animal farms pollute the air and water of people living near them. Eating seafood supports indiscriminate fishing methods that are destroying marine ecosystems and cause incidental “bycatch” deaths of many other animals including endangered sea turtles and dolphins. [Kemmerer 2014]

The widespread acknowledgement of anthropogenic climate change has led to global clarion calls for lower vehicle and factory emissions. However, in addition to industrial causes, according to the United Nations, animal agriculture is responsible for more than half of greenhouse gases. [UNFAO 2006] Yet, the simple act of reducing emissions by not eating animals is almost completely ignored in discussions of effective ways to mitigate climate change.

Veganism—eschewing, to the greatest practical degree, the use of animals for food or other products—is the easiest, most effective way to help other humans and protect the environment that I have ever encountered. But as importantly, I now understand that veganism is a way to move toward social justice. Speciesism is a key social justice issue: the ultimate problem is not how we use animals but that we use them.[Francione 2008, Francione 2013] Our deepest values as humans include compassion, justice, fairness, and equality. It does not make sense to refuse to apply those values to nonhuman animals.[Herzog 2010] To help create a more compassionate, more just, less violent world, consider choosing to stop participating in the exploitation of animals by becoming vegan. How can we agitate for social justice issues, march for the rights of black lives, stand up against oppression of women, support the rights of the LGBTQ community to marry and be free from discrimination, work to protect the environment, then throw our underlying motivations for those causes in the trash when we sit down to dinner?

References

Maier A, Mesleh S. Call for papers 2008. Posted with slight rewording at Connect the Dots Movement. http://connect thedots movement.wordpress.com/about/. Accessed February 8, 2015.

Smith G. Animal rights as a social justice issue. In: Circles of Compassion, edited by Will Tuttle. 2014.

McWilliams J. The Modern Savage: Our unthinking decision to eat animals. 2015.

Francione G. Animals as persons. 2008.

Rose M. Becoming a vegan feminist agitator. In: Circles of Compassion, edited by Will Tuttle. 2014.

Foer JS. Eating Animals. 2009.

Humane Society of the United States. The welfare of cows in the dairy industry. 2014. Available at http://www.humanesociety.org/assets/pdfs/farm/hsus-the-welfare-of-cows-in-the-dairy-industry.pdf. Accessed February 8, 2015.

Tuttle W, editor. Circles of Compassion. 2014.

Joy M. Carnism: why eating animals is a social justice issue. In: Circles of Compassion, edited by Will Tuttle. 2014.

Moby, Park M. Gristle. 2010.

Grillo R. Eating animals and the illusion of personal choice. In: Circles of Compassion, edited by Will Tuttle. 2014.

Rodriguez C, Rodriguez JC.  Workers. In: Gristle, co-edited by Moby and Miyun Park. 2010.

Human Rights Watch. Blood Sweat and Fear: Workers’ Rights in the US Meat and Poultry Plants. 2004.

Robinson M. “What is social justice?” Department of Government and Justice Studies, Appalachian State University. 2014.

Ornelas L. A Hunger for Justice. In: Circles of Compassion, edited by Will Tuttle. 2014.

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and World Food Programme (WFP). The State of Food Insecurity in the world 2013: The multiple dimensions of food security. 2013.

Oppenlander R. Food choice and sustainability: why buying local, eating less meat, and taking baby steps won’t work. 2013.

Cassidy ES, West PC, Gerber JS, Foley JA. Redefining agricultural yields: from tonnes to people nourished per hectare. Environmental Research Letters. 2013;8(no 3).

Pimentel D. Livestock production: energy inputs and the environment. In: Food, Energy and Society, third edition. 2008.

Pacific Institute and Natural Resources Defense Council. The untapped potential of California’s water supply. 2014. Available at http://pacinst.org/publication/ca-water-supply-solutions/#issuebriefs. Accessed February 8, 2015.

Pimentel D, Pimentel M. Sustainability of meat based and plant-based diets and the environment. Am J Clin Nutr. 2003;78:6605-6635.

Hoekstra AY, Chapagain AK. Water footprint of nations: water use by people as a function of their consumption pattern. Water Resour Manage. 2006.

Maza C. World Water Day: why access to clean water is a crucial social justice issue. 2013. Available at http://mic.com/articles/30766/world-water-day-why-access-to-clean-water-is-a-crucial-social-justice-issue. Accessed February 9, 2015.

Bush L. Environment. In: Gristle, co-edited by Moby and Miyun Park. 2010.

Kemmerer L. Social justice, sincerity, and sustenance. In: Circles of Compassion, edited by Will Tuttle. 2014.

United Nations. Food and Agriculture Organisation. Livestock’s Long Shadow – Environmental Issues and Options. 2006. Available at http://www.fao.org/docrep/010/a0701e/a0701e00.htm. Accessed February 8, 2014.

Francione GL, Charlton A. Eat like you care: an examination of the morality of eating animals. 2013.

Herzog H. Some we love, some we hate, some we eat: why it’s so hard to think straight about animals. 2010.

F******: A Short Story

Her name is Terra, she’s an Orange County flower and I can’t help but think about her. When I first met her she made the ground I walk on shake. I can honestly say she’s perfect and I love her.

She’s the most beautiful girl in the world and I know her. And I love her, I adore her.

She’s a queen, she’s the image those Europeans dudes used when they made their sculptures.

I think I love her because I don’t look like her. I think about who I am, I wonder sometimes if what I feel is wrong, if I’m wrong for thinking about her the way I do. Sometimes I wish I were her just so I could feel as much love as she does. Sometimes I feel it would make me a better person to be loved.

Then I think about my dad and how much he’s taught me. I often wonder if it’s his fault.

If he’s the reason I am the way I am. I read in a book that most kids grow up at different ages and that a strong parental support system is needed to fully develop a child’s mind. That leads me to think that maybe it’s all in my head. Maybe in time I will change and it all has to do with the chemicals that my body is forming. Maybe I have to go to the doctor and get fewer or more chemicals; that’s what my friend Sean did and he says he feels fine.

I wonder what Sean is doing right now? He told me he likes to fuck his pillow when he has a hard dick. He’s probably fucking his pillow right now. When I asked my dad if he fucked his pillow at thirteen he didn’t say anything. I wonder if I should fuck my pillow?

I think I should try it later. Who knows I might like it.

I wonder if my brother Rudy does it? He’s always talking to himself when he thinks no one is around. He always wears mom’s clothes too. I wonder if that’s why mom likes him more than she likes me. Maybe I should wear mom’s clothes? Maybe if I wear my mother’s clothes I’ll feel better about myself or at least have something in common with Rudy. My dad says I should talk to him more, he says, “It’s good to have an older brother to look up to.” I wonder if my dad knows that Rudy sleeps with Mr. Keller from down the street. Maybe if I slept with an older man I might learn something. I wonder if Mr. Keller fucks his pillow when Rudy isn’t around. Sometimes I feel like I want to just tell everyone how I feel but instead I do nothing. I think so much about how I feel that it almost makes me doubt everything I feel. Then I see Terra, god she’s perfect. Her face could change the world, it’s already changed mine.

I think I’m going to just let her know how I feel, I’m going to let her know that when I first met her she made the ground I walk on shake.

I can honestly say she’s perfect and I love her. She’s the most beautiful girl in the world and I know her and I love her, I adore her.

She’s a queen, she’s the image those Europeans dudes used when they made their sculptures.

I think I love her because I don’t look like her. Maybe she’ll be okay with it. Maybe she thinks the same of me.

It’s like dad always says to Rudy, “Man up!” Maybe that’s why Rudy sleeps with Mr. Keller. Maybe if I “man up” good things will start to happen to me.

The next morning I wake up with butterflies in my stomach and can’t help but say, “Today is the day I’m gonna tell Terra how I feel.” I feel that the butterflies are a sign that everything will be okay. Terra and I have fourth period together, so I’ll let her know everything after our class. I can’t help but feel a little embarrassed, even nervous, the butterflies they just won’t go away.

During third period I talk to Sean and tell him what I’m planning to do. I feel like Sean might be my best friend. He often talks to me about his personal life and tells me things he swears he’s never told anyone. I know this because he always makes a point of saying “you know I’ve never told anyone this” before he spills his thoughts to me.

His reaction towards what I’m planning to do leaves me a little frazzled. He says “ what you like Terra? Nah man, she’s not right for you. She might be a lot of things but she’s not right for you at all! It would never work, does she ever tell you her secrets, like I do?”

At first I don’t understand what he’s implying so I walk away. Then it hits me “Sean must like Terra too!” It all made sense, I tried not to let this new revolution affect my goal.

Third period came to an end and I made my way towards my next class. I see Terra just like I always do and wave hello. During class Terra and I are paired in different groups so I don’t get to talk to her. The butterflies feel almost painful, my excited face can hardly contain itself. Fourth period ends and I follow her out the door. As I’m walking towards her I start to feel faint, I stand in front of her and ask, “Terra, can we talk for a second?” She agrees and we walk towards a tree near the back of our school science building. When we arrive I look at her and for a brief second I am calm. I smile as I look up towards the sun that is gently caressing her skin and say to her, “Terra I like you, I know it sounds strange but I like you, I tried not liking you but I just can’t! I don’t know if you like me but I have to just tell you, you are the most beautiful girl in the world to me!” She stares at me in disbelief. Before she can say anything I say, “Terra will you be my girlfriend?!” She takes a step forward towards me but then she yells, “No!”

The word feels like a million daggers stabbing me at the same time, my dreams annihilated.

Before I can ask why, I look down, there’s blood on my skirt.

Terra looks down and says, “This is why we can’t be together! It’s wrong, my mom says I’m not suppose to feel this way about you, she says this is a feeling that is reserved for boys that’s why we can’t be together, Felicia.”

Something Like Sexual Harassment

By Taylor Simmons 

Trigger Warning: This piece has depictions of sexual harassment.   

This piece portrays the beautiful beginning and the maimed ending of a relationship I had with a man.  It began with admiration and innocence. It ended with a sexualization that caused disappointment and confusion.  My want to share this story is rooted in a warm winter morning not to long ago, when I learned that other women close to me have experienced similar sexualized relationships with men who have the power to take advantage.  Here is the story.

I admired her.  I had been told her story.  She would tell the school what he did to her.  As I listened to her parents talk about it as though it was a distant event, one that was done to somebody other than their daughter.  Other than the girl they were responsible for keeping safe.  From the huge hurts of the world.  Sure the little hurts were inevitable.  Heart breaks.  Lay offs.  Experiences becoming memories.  But the big ones they assumed they could see coming.  The big ones were going to be brightly colored and have warning labels on them.  They would be able to save her from those.  If they focused on the fact that she was their daughter, they would not be nearly so composed.  They would blubber as their daughter has blubbered about it.  Upset was natural under these circumstances.  But they remained calm.  Both sets of parents remained calm.  Both daughters had had similar experiences.

I was one of them.

They sat on our distressed leather couch, the parents of this childhood friend.  It did not come this way, our various pets helped it achieve this look. They talked about what had happened to her.  I was sitting on the white, tile hearth in front of the fireplace. It triggered thoughts of my own experience. I thought about the emails he had written me telling me I was so interesting and intelligent and beautiful.  How he would give me a hug if I were to see him again.  I cringed at the thought of feeling the bulge in his pants when he hugged me tight.  Feeling his pelvis thrust slightly into me.

I will not share her story.  That is for her to do. I can share mine.

We sat outside in the warm summer air.  The past was so perfect.  We were working on a farm together.  A bunch of nomads talking of their experiences.  His daughter and wife were there.  They were a second family to me.  They had saved me from a dull summer of harvesting almonds and cucumbers.  He was my second father.  It was a romanticized time of manual labor, lightning bugs, and sunrise horseback rides.

Fast-forward 1 year. I traveled to England for a semester abroad.  He and his family lived there. I would visit when I needed a break from school or from my friends. We would watch football, not the American kind, or eat dinner, or watch weird independent films they had rented.  They had a bookshelf filled with Lonely Planet Guide books detailing the places they had already visited. Their next place would be Japan. I fell in love with this family.  They had risen up from a past as refugees from a conflicted country, and now they thrived in their little condo in North London. They were a novelty to me.

I wanted to soak them in.  His wife made jewelry that was featured in Vogue.  She got to travel the world showing off her artistic ability.  He was a teacher of Anthropology.

“Teaching is all about making up stories.”  He told me one night before our relationship was anything but innocent.

Their daughter had a style all her own.  She was three years my junior but she knew herself better than I do now.  She wants to be a vet one day.  I have no doubt this will happen unless her goals change.  However, she seems unwavering.

It was the day before my birthday.  21. I would be leaving London soon.  I was staying at their house, having been kicked out of my apartment and having a flight three days later.  The family was watching football.  His daughter went out with friends.  His wife went into the other room.  He stood up.  Half way out of the room he turned around.  It was as though he had decided tonight was the night that everything would change.  He offered me a drag of his blunt.  He was insistent.  I walked over to where he was standing.  He wrapped his hand around my hip.  His tanned, middle-aged hand, with a tattoo on his ring finger, began to stroke my hipbone.  I was confused.  As though reading my mind he made his intentions clearer.   Moving his hand to my lower back and then down even lower, taking a chunk of the flesh of one butt cheek.  He looked at me, curious as to what I would do.  I was frozen.  I didn’t know what to think.  I didn’t know what to do.  It evolved from there.

Originally I was flattered.  A man who I admired very much was attracted to me.  Maybe I was attracted to him?  Things progressed, and while I always stopped it before nudity and sex, he continued to roam my body when an opportunity presented itself.  I continued to let him.  Not “let.”  I continued to not resist.  Finally, it was time to leave London.  He continued sending emails that took a whole new meaning when he ended it with “a big hug and kiss,” I continued to respond, not wanting this friendship to end.  He was important to me.

The emails fizzled when I realized what had happened. And he realized I understood.  There was no closure. I realized that he had taken advantage of me.  I realized I had allowed him to.  I realized blaming myself was not an option.  But as I blamed him, it began to affect my relationships with other men.  Any men.  Friends of the family became sexual predators.  Men I dated would be kind and patient, and in bed they were the same.  But as I became more vulnerable with them, triggers would appear more rapidly.  Eventually paralyzing me.  The kind, patient men would not understand, making me feel guilty all over again.  It was a cycle.

It is a cycle.

I used to laugh when I told this story.  It wasn’t real.  It couldn’t have actually happened to me.  I was not grown up enough to have this happen to me.  He was a grown man.  I was still a child.  At moments I felt proud.  An excuse.  An excuse to act screwed up.  I liked the attention it got me.

I started going to therapy 3 weeks ago.  I am tired of this cycle. I went after the parents on the distressed leather couch explained to us what had happened to their daughter that warm, winter morning.  I blubbered to her, my therapist, the first time I told her what had happened.  I didn’t laugh.  I didn’t act strong.  I blubbered.